Profoto B1 gave Richard Wade the speed and flexibility to freeze Belfast boxers in time as they trained. The images tell stories of men who go to the gym not just to look good but to fight someone. Not just to be strong, but to be tough. Not to just work out, but maybe to work something out.
The monochrome photos were taken for an exhibition this spring at the Titanic Museum in Belfast alongside the work of internationally renowned photographer Larry Fink. The images capture years or even decades of latent history with every crease on the boxers’ faces. Light breaks around every shadowy curve and hollow of muscles toughened by punches. “The true character and toughness of the fighters was captured by the beautiful light the B1’s produced,” Wade says.
Fighting for the shot
Each image freezes a boxer in a moment of rest between rounds or in a split second of sweat-flying impact. The action was too fast for speedlights, so Wade used three Profoto B1 Off-Camera Flashes.
“Boxing training is fast paced and constant,” Wade explains. “I had originally tried shooting some of the sparring sessions with speedlights but they just were not fast enough for what I wanted to achieve. The HSS feature of the B1’s allowed me to capture the speed and intensity of the boxers as they skipped, shadowboxed and moved around the ring with incredible speed. Although the B1’s had been used in unbelievably frantic and fast conditions, they produced pictures that seemed to slow down time.”
Often, Wade’s assistant held a B1 with an OCF Softbox 1,3×1,3’ Octa attached. This allowed Wade to stay in the action but out of the way.
“Shooting in this way captured the fighters in way I do not believe would have been possible with other equipment,” he says. “It is important to remain as unobtrusive as possible as you are capturing serious and often tense moments.”
Fast set-up changes
Before the fighters arrived, Wade would set up his lights and photograph his assistant to get a basic idea of what the lighting set up should be. This was usually done in vain as setups constantly changed or would be abandoned altogether due to the ever-changing nature of the training.
Fast set-up was also key, because the photos were typically taken in the 30 seconds between rounds. The fighters, with their lack of vanity and their no-nonsense attitudes were not going to stand around posing, either. “In one case, I asked fighter if I could take his photo, which he agreed to. I got one shot and then he continued down the hall.”
That shot went on one of the billboards.
“As the B1’s are wireless, setup was never an issue and I was able to quickly adjust them in the moment to capture the action,” Wade says.
When you see the endurance and determination etched on the boxers’ faces, it is hard to believe they were not posed in a studio. But they were not, they were in their element.
“The shoot proved to be much more technically challenging than I had originally thought,” says Wade. “Many of the gyms were 30-40 years old, dark, and had very low ceilings, not ideal for taking pictures.”
Technically challenging or not, Wade succeeded so well that even as the junior participant in a two-man exhibition, some of his photos were used for promotional material for Belfast Photo Festival. The images were used on billboards and phone boxes around the city.
“Prints this size simply would not have held up without using the Profoto B1’s,” Wade says.
Pain without fame
After the photographer packs up his cameras and lights and leaves, the fighters to go back to their sparring, taking punches, inflicting punches. They’ll be back, day after day, to battle it out in dark, dank gyms. These photos tell a story of endurance without fame. All guts, no glory.
Why do they do it? The photos reveal an answer deep within them, emerging in a steely intensity from their eyes, in the tilt of their heads, in the set of their shoulders, all un-posed, fleeting moments frozen in time.
To see more of Richard’s projects, visit his website: http://www.richwade.com/